The Lake District in North West England is an area of superlatives. In terms of raw geography, it is home to the country’s highest peak, as well as the largest and deepest lakes. As one of England’s oldest national parks, it holds a special place in the hearts and minds of all who have ever visited. On the international stage, the Lake District gained recognition in 2017 when it was designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. The area’s natural beauty, combined with a rich cultural heritage, has made the Lake District National Park a hugely popular tourist destination, attracting around 19 million visitors each year.
Playing a major role in the region’s tourist industry is Windermere Lake Cruises, a company with origins dating back to 1845. Today the company operates a fleet of sixteen lake cruising vessels: three traditional ‘steamers’ – each with a capacity of more than 350 – in addition to traditional and modern launches.
Motivations for growth
“With more than 1.63 million passenger journeys made every year, Windermere Lake Cruises is officially one of the most popular ‘paid for’ attractions in England – attracting visitors from all over the UK and internationally,” states the company’s chairman, Bill Bewley. Furthermore, the number of visitors is growing every year, most notably from China, increasing by 286% since 2016.
To accommodate this consistent and extensive growth in visitor numbers and to enhance the sustainable transport offering on Windermere, Mr Bewley explains that it was time to increase the size of the fleet. Assisted by James Fisher PLC, Windermere Lake Cruises first approached UK-based shipyards. “However, it soon became clear in the procurement process that the shipyard with the depth of experience to undertake this project within the cost and time scale requirements was Damen,” he adds.
Regarding design, Windermere Lake Cruises had clear-cut ideas about what was required from a new vessel. In response to their 364 days-per-year flexible operations, the vessel should be able to operate in all weathers and be capable to operating from smaller jetties. Comfort, of course, was paramount: “We want to increase the quality of experience of our customers, creating 21st century quality, comfort and accessibility.”
The content of the subsequent vessel design and construction contract with Damen for Windermere Lake Cruises’ seventeenth vessel reflected these specific details. “We set out requirements and worked with Damen to ensure that the whole project could be fulfilled in the best way possible, with a particular emphasis on minimising wash.
“Damen then undertook extensive computer-based modelling to simulate wash characteristics of the vessel and amended the hull design accordingly. For the interior design and outfitting, Damen offered us the resource department that work on superyachts, which will give our passengers the four-star level of comfort.” The vessel’s propulsion system is diesel-electric with azimuth pods: “It is a 21st century propulsion system for a 21st century vessel,” he smiles.
An eye for details
Steel for the new vessel – to be called Swift – was cut on 9th April 2019, with an eye to be fully operational in mid-2020. “It has been designed in a contemporary style, but one that remains sympathetic to the style of our other vessels Swan and Teal. Furthermore, it will be equipped with a number of features not present in our existing fleet. The top deck, for example, is designed in such a way that it can be open in good weather, but fully enclosed at the touch of a button when the weather is cooler in winter. This new vessel has been designed to provide improved accessibility with the provision of an onboard lift and facilities being available to all passengers.
And, with a seating capacity for 300 passengers, the Swift will not only be the largest vessel to be ‘launched’ on the waters of Windermere for over 80 years, but it will also provide Windermere Lake Cruises with the necessary fleet expansion to successfully manage its growing passenger numbers for years to come.
Shipbuilding for a UNESCO World Heritage Site
Taking into account that the Swift is a one-off vessel built for an inland location that is also a UK National Park and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, planning the construction process was not without challenges.
Damen is meeting these challenges by prefabricating the hull and superstructure in several sections at one of its Polish shipyards. The Swift will then be assembled on-site, before final outfitting and testing on the water.
“With regard to the Lake District National Park’s requirements,” says Mr Bewley, “We have planned the work to minimise impact on adjoining properties of the build site, we have already had a consultation with our neighbours and have engaged the assistance of an acoustic specialist.”
Windermere Lake Cruises
The English Lake District